Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for First Sunday of Lent – Pull back to discover what is important

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the second in a series of reflections throughout Lent from Rev. Paul Lansu. Reflections on the Sunday readings will be posted each week on the Friday before the Sunday which the reflection references. Holy Day reflections will be posted the day before the actual Holy Day. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Deut 26:4-10 |  Ps 91 (90) | Rom 10:8-13 | Lk 4:1-13

It is often suggested that each stage of a person’s life is deeply influenced by a particular event, emotion or drive. While pride is ever-present in our hearts, the suggestion is that sometimes young people seek only fun or pleasure and look for an ambitious future; the middle-aged long for stability and status; and many elderly put their hope in certainty and possessions. Some people find such wayward trends alive and well in every stage of their lives and are happy in the ongoing human struggle by inviting Christ to be with them as they grow gradually in the gospel values that redirect these strong human ambitions.

The desert is a learning place

Indeed, before starting a new phase of life, it is worth considering: where do I start? What is important in my life? Why do I want that? What does this mean for my life? A person can withdraw, go to an abbey or search for some silence in the mountains, take a time out, or, like Jesus, go into the desert.

In the Bible, “desert” has its own meaning. It is “a learning place.” You can learn life, consider the important choices that a person has to make and try to give them place. That’s how Jesus did it. He left his family and home, knowing himself as very close to God. And before giving an answer to the call of God, he thought deeply about it. It is about struggling against the temptations that every person knows, the temptations that can keep us from our deepest vocation. In the Gospel, Jesus is tested in his authenticity. Does he, as a preacher behind the scenes, give up his principles when he is offered wealth and status?

Temptations can be part of life!

Today’s gospel recounts in a vividly descriptive way how Christ himself experienced comparable temptations. The bread he was offered when he was hungry is a symbol of how easy it is to justify putting our own comfort and pleasure before the needs and rights of others. His trip to the high mountain with its offer to control many kingdoms alerts us to how we can be tyrants in small ways through emotional blackmail in our families or communities and through pressure groups on the job or in school.

Jesus stayed in the desert for forty days. This refers to the deserts of the Jewish people who lasted forty years. Moses also had to flee to that desert when it all got too much for him. A bush that burns but does not burn up brings him to the realisation: this is a sacred place; here one can meet with God.

By sticking to his principles and his words Jesus showed that the short-lived temptations of power and wealth are inferior to values that last. Yes, status and power are desirable but, in the end, they are passing joys which can drive you mad with addiction and destroy you and your freedom in the process. The biblical advice to set “your heart on things that last because they give you greater peace” does not mean that one choice excludes the other, but rather that we should not worship them as gods.

At the beginning of this Lent, these desert stories about Moses and Jesus also have a special meaning for us. Their message is: we can experience God more than we think. There is more in this world, more around us than we suspect.

In each situation, the choice is between selfishness and the other’s good, between settling for human limitations and accepting our greatness as God’s children. Lent is a time to strengthen the choice to belong enthusiastically to God’s family.

See the good in people

We should live the connection between our prayer, our words and our actions; we should avoid hypocrisy and do good works without telling the whole world about it. We are simply good because God lives in us and, as such, our reward is a better world, a more peaceful heart and the fact that we do not have to hide behind false facades.

We sometimes make mistakes. However, making mistakes in itself is not sinful. It is far worse and sinful to do nothing.

When we see the good in people and bring out the best in each other, there is no distinction between Jew or Greek, between Catholics or Orthodox, between Hindu or Muslims, between Shiites or Sunni, between natives and immigrants. We do not have to prove anything or convert others because who we are and what we do will speak for itself.

Living in a communal home

People are a fundamental part of the earth – the Creation – as the ‘communal home’ in which all creatures have a place. The Encyclical Laudato Si [1] is offering a new grammar of ecology and the virtues that lay the foundation for a new lifestyle, proposing that a dynamic tension must be maintained between a preferential option for the poor and an encouragement of human industry, in furthering the common good.

Ecological issues such as polluted rivers and oceans, air pollution or global warming are increasingly playing out internationally and politically. Climate change has become the most important international issue. These issues concern the direct living conditions of people and have, among other things, bearing on working conditions, fair salaries, working with clean paint materials and non-toxic pesticides. We all know that resources have limits. In the end we will all gain if we can use our resources responsibly.

Putting faith into motion

People’s desire for ever more consumption of goods is the underlying source of today’s spiritual crisis. The message is to carefully handle the earth’s resources. It is a matter of enjoying the ‘enough’. A possible eighth work of mercy [2] is the care for climate, the care for our communal home, the earth.

Every Lent comes with an opportunity to make our love more visible. We call it the Lenten campaign. An idea could be that you put a tree in your church, place of worship, your office or even at home. That tree needs leaves on it so that at Easter it can symbolise new life. The leaves could be made available in some baskets put close to the tree. Before people hang them on the tree, you can write your Lenten gift on them. Not money, but energy! There might be ideas to give back either to the planet or save energy to guarantee sustainable living.

All these eco-gifts could be an Easter-gift. God entrusted us with the task of taking care of his creation. By giving energy in one way, or saving it in another, we can experience the Resurrection because our faith has been put into motion. This doesn’t just benefit ourselves but also raises up the world around us. May our Lent turn ashes into new life.

[1] http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_of_mercy

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Photo credit: https://rwelling3.artstation.com/projects/nY53K
Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2018: Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent, February 18 – The first step takes courage

From the Maryknoll Office for Global Concern’s 2018 Lenten Reflection Guide: Embracing Jesus’ Practice of Nonviolence

Genesis 9:8-15 | 1 Peter 3:18-22 | Mark 1:12-15

ashwednesdayclip

Lent is an opportunity for us to set aside forty days for a time of repentance, of giving up things that tie us to this world and looking instead to the life and teachings of Jesus.n the first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading each year is about Jesus’ temptation in the desert. The forty days that Jesus spent in the desert are a reference to the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the desert after being led from slavery in Egypt and the forty days and nights the prophet Elijah also traveled in the desert.

In Mark’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus went into the desert immediately after his baptism, led by the Spirit. The desert marks the beginning of Jesus’ confrontation with evil. Our Lenten practices are a beginning for us as well, to shine light on whatever temptations we struggle to resist. This is no easy task; it requires courage.

In 1957, in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King Jr. described the six principles of nonviolence that he learned during the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. The first principle is “Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.” It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.

The courage to resist evil requires overcoming the fear of consequences one may incur while doing good:  contempt, disapproval, or even physical or emotional opposition.

“We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension,” Dr. King wrote six years later in Letter from a Birmingham Jail. “We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. Injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience at the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

An example of this principle occurred during the civil war in El Salvador, when campesinos moved back to their land after being displaced by the military. Many had been living in refugee camps and were simply tired of doing nothing, waiting for the war to end.

“Their action was completely nonviolent,” recalls Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International. “Thousands went back to their villages within a few months. They knew moving home was dangerous; it was an active war zone. They knew they could be killed. We saw their remarkable courage and determination but we also saw their faith, their willing entry into the suffering of the cross – even death.”…

Click here for the rest of this reflection, questions, a prayer, suggestions for fasting and action, and more.

* Image of Arizona desert courtesy of No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, http://forms.nomoredeaths.org/en/. Used with permission. Image of Larry Parr in El Salvador courtesy of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners http://bit.ly/2B5D7So.
Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2017: Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent, March 5 – From revenge to reconciliation

by Moses Sichei Sakong, with Martha Okumu
Peace Tree Network

Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7 | Romans 5:12-19 | Matthew 4:1-11

ashwednesdayclipMy name is Moses Sichei Sakong from the Mt. Elgon region in Bungoma County in Kenya. I was born on the 6th of June, 1987 into a Sabaot family and I have ten siblings of which I am the second born.

During my childhood, I had never experienced violent conflict, but by 2004, there were warning signs of the coming violence. The Ndorobo people, who were our neighbours, came and burnt down our houses and granaries. By the time I was in secondary school, life had become tough for me as we had lost all our possessions as a family. I started asking myself a lot of questions and developed a negative attitude towards the Ndorobo community.

From 2005 to 2007, the third phase of land redistribution by the government of Kenya in the Mt. Elgon region was underway. It was then that the land conflict escalated and violent clashes started to occur with militia groups being formed. The Sabaot Land Defence Force was formed with the aim of protecting the land interests of its community from the perceived injustice in the resettlement process. The group received support from politicians as membership was drawn from among the youth. It was at this time that I had a desire to join the militia group but my mother refused.

With the escalation of violent conflict between the Soy and Mosop — of which I am a Soy — there was a lot of killings, torture and destruction of property. I lost many relatives including brothers, cousins, uncles and close friends, and it was then that we became internally displaced.

Everyone in my family ran to safety. I and my elder brother went together but on the way we almost got killed as there were gunshots everywhere and we frequently faced death. It is only through God’s will that we made it. I experienced a tough life of slavery; eating was a problem, and this affected me psychologically, physically, emotionally, socially; my education was disrupted.

After the ethnic conflict of 2008, I became aware of the work of Peace Tree Network (PTN) and I started participating in their work in 2009 centered on peace-building. PTN has played a big role in my life by transforming my outlook through their seminars, trainings, and exchange programs, and I now live life in a positive way. For instance, during the conflict period, my heart was filled with revenge for losing my relatives and I did not want to socialise with the Ndorobo group, but through the teachings and skills learnt, it has brought about healing and reconciliation in my life and changed my negative thinking of revenge towards positive living with all people, especially the ones I viewed as my enemies.

I have also discovered my career path for counseling psychology which I am currently pursuing. I have become a peace ambassador and engaged in a reconciliation process in my community through the use of mediation and forgiveness and through that I have learnt the importance of maintaining peace. I educate the youth against engaging in violence and being misused by leaders for their personal gain.

With these skills that I have, I live positively, not a life of hopelessness and negativity, and I am very thankful to be here and to be a testimony of a positive peaceful existence.